Weekender: Woodstock, Vermont
Published: May 2009
By Heidi Sherman Mitchell
The Victorian mansions, working farms, and tight-knit community of Woodstock share an undeniable magnetism. From the time the Abenaki Indian enclave was first settled by the English in 1768 to its present life as a sophisticated year-round getaway, this corner of Vermont has enticed all types, including George Perkins Marsh (the congressman largely responsible for the creation of the Smithsonian Institution in 1846), environmentalist and benefactor Laurance S. Rockefeller, and proud transplants like Kevin Dann, who leads visitors on walking tours of his adopted town. Woodstock's 3,300 other inhabitants—many of whom came for a weekend and stayed for good—express a similar pride of place. It's no wonder visitors often end up as residents: regulars at the Prince & Pauper restaurant are always pulling up an extra chair for an unexpected dinner guest. Shoppers dropping into the Taftsville Country Store take time to discuss local politics with owner Charlie Wilson. And it's practically criminal to pass a face on Elm Street without at least exchanging a hello. You'd need a whole summer to soak up this good old Northern hospitality (and sample every notable restaurant in town), but spend a weekend in Woodstock and its neighboring villages and you'll understand the allure. You may even find yourself adopting it as your new home.
Where to Stay
When Woodstock was named the Windsor County seat in 1805, lawyers, politicians, and journalists began flocking to the town, and innkeepers quickly became its economic backbone. Proprietors have long since mastered their trade; you'll find attentive service and fastidious owners at nearly every B&B in the area.
Jackson House Inn & Restaurant
114-3 Senior Lane, Woodstock; 800/448-1890 or 802/457-2065; www.jacksonhouse.com; doubles from $195.
Built in 1890 by a local sawmill owner, the 15-room Victorian residence now has nine guest rooms and six suites—each with a different theme, ranging from French Empire to Brighton Castle to New England Country—and a restaurant to rival them in elegance. Spend the day sitting in a porch rocker, strolling the five acres of gardens, or relaxing in your spacious tub while the fireplace crackles (even summer nights can use some warming up). Should you crave interaction with other guests, head down to the study at 6 p.m. for complimentary cocktails and hors d'oeuvres.
Twin Farms Barnard; 800/894-6327 or 802/234-9999; www.twinfarms.com; doubles from $900.
What was once Sinclair Lewis's summer retreat is now one of the country's most exclusive inns. Twin Farms added a spa two years ago, to occupy your time between croquet on the lawn, canoe trips on the lake, and bike rides as far as your legs will take you—a car and driver follow, of course. Treatments are prearranged, as are meals by chef Neil Wigglesworth (formerly of the Point on Saranac Lake), leaving you with no taxing decisions to make—just time to explore the 300 acres and work off those multi-course dinners.
Quechee Inn at Marshland Farm Quechee Main St., Quechee; 800/235-3133 or 802/295-3133; www.quecheeinn.com; doubles from $140.
Not much has changed inside the 1793 farmhouse of Vermont's earliest lieutenant governor, Colonel Joseph Marsh (father of George Perkins Marsh, considered America's first environmentalist). Its 23 guest rooms and two suites are still furnished with Queen Anne antiques and cross-stitched quilts. But the real attraction is the surrounding Marshland Farm. Rent bikes, canoes, and kayaks from Wilderness Trails, whose office is behind the inn, or just get a map from the concierge and set out on foot.
Kedron Valley Inn Rte. 106, South Woodstock; 800/836-1193 or 802/457-1473; www.kedronvalleyinn.com; doubles from $135. This renovated 174-year-old inn (one of Vermont's oldest) and horse farm is the height of no-frills country comfort. Some of the 28 oversized, uncluttered rooms have wood-burning fireplaces, private decks, queen-sized canopy beds, and two-person whirlpool tubs; all have locally acquired antiques. Take a pre-dinner dip in the spring-fed lake out back, then sample the "nouvelle Vermont" menu—ranked one of the state's finest—in the semi-formal dining room.
Where to Eat
For a town that's barely a speck on the map, Woodstock is a cosmopolitan feast. Don't be surprised if your Muscovy duck breast has an Italian flavor, or if the guy behind the broiler graduated from the Culinary Institute of America.
Jackson House Inn & Restaurant 114-3 Senior Lane, Woodstock; 802/457-2065; www.jacksonhouse.com; dinner for two $100. Marty Holzberg's Tuscan cuisine has elevated this inn to a culinary destination. Between courses (to start, try the lobster cassoulet), he'll emerge from the kitchen into the cathedral-ceilinged dining room to entertain diners with stories of wee-hour phone calls from the eccentric mushroom-hunter, or the wild raspberries secretly nicked from a neighbor's yard. Holzberg's veal tenderloin wrapped in Vermont bacon tastes even better than it sounds. Ask for a table overlooking the garden.
Barnard Inn Restaurant 5518 Rte. 12, Barnard; 802/234-9961; www.barnardinnrestaurant.com; dinner for two $100. There are no guest rooms in this old farmhouse—just a semi-formal tavern where elegant dinners are orchestrated by chef-owners Ruth Schimmelpfennig and Will Dodson. Appetizers include house-smoked rainbow trout dabbed with horseradish crème fraîche, and rich sweetbreads drenched in a lobster-veal reduction. If you're still hungry, move on to a Long Island duckling breast over braised red cabbage or roast game poussin with caramelized root vegetables. Squeeze in a lemon custard tartlet with berry coulis at the end, or just head over to the adjoining bar for a digestif.
Kedron Valley Inn Rte. 106, South Woodstock; 802/457-1473; www.kedronvalleyinn. com; dinner for two $75.
Chef Jim Allen re-creates typical American dishes using local produce with a lot of flavor. The grilled filet mignon is marinated in red wine, olive oil, black pepper, and garlic, and served with mushroom bordelaise; the salmon is stuffed with mousse, wrapped in puff pastry, and drizzled with beurre blanc and herbs from the inn's garden. Whet your appetite with the smoked pheasant salad and a glass of Chardonnay from the award-winning wine list.
Pane e Salute 61 Central St., Woodstock; 802/457-4882; dinner for two $60. Owners Caleb Barber and Deirdre Heekin spent a year in Italy on an impromptu culinary tour. After returning to Vermont, Barber headed back to Tuscany to apprentice with an artisanal bread maker, then came home again to open this tiny osteria. The couple's dedication to authentic Italian cooking is evident in every detail, from the selection of cured meats in the piatto toscana to the hearty consistency of the acquacotta ("cooked water"), a peasant soup of beans, tomatoes, onions, and sage. These perfectionists still spend time in Italy, researching the cuisine of one region each year.
The Prince & the Pauper 24 Elm St., Woodstock; 802/457-1818; www.princeandpauper.com; dinner for two $70. The clubby restaurant has earned accolades from critics since it opened in 1981, but dishes that diverge from traditional country French sometimes miss their mark. The orange-ginger sauce paired with wasabi-crusted ahi tuna is too tangy; the Vietnamese spring rolls are a bit odd. Still, "the Pauper" has its pluses: the menu changes daily, patrons chat from table to table, and co-owner Vincent Talento makes convivial rounds through the half-timbered room. If you stick to the classics prepared by chef and co-owner Chris Balcer—like the carré d'agneau "royale" and the house-made maple ice cream with sugared walnuts—you won't be disappointed.
Corners Inn Restaurant 52 Upper Rd., at Rte. 4, Bridgewater Corners; 802/672-9968; www.cornersinn.com; dinner for two $65.
Though it's just south of the main artery to Woodstock, about 10 minutes outside town, the inn's low-key dining room (inlaid stone fireplace, white table linens, floral-upholstered chairs) still manages to lure patrons by the busload. They come for Bradford Pirkey's inventive cooking, to which the menu is "only a guide." For Pirkey, the chef-diner interaction is as important as the food. Try his veal with porcini and shiitake mushrooms; or, if you're a dairy aficionado, order the five-onion soup with three-cheese crostini and the equally cheese-laden artichoke bread. As the evening winds down, join Pirkey in the wood-paneled tavern for a pint of Long Trail Ale, brewed down the street.
Simon Pearce The Mill, Main St., Quechee; 802/295-2711; dinner for two $100. When you've finished watching the glassblowers in the studios downstairs, settle in at a table overlooking the waterfall and appreciate a different sort of craftsmanship. The Irish-influenced menu is as clean and comforting as the rough-hewn mill in which it's served; hearty appetites will appreciate chef Robert Newton's steamed pork dumplings and three-beet risotto thickened with goat's-milk cheddar.
Vermonters like to make a point of supporting their farmers and small businesses by buying local products (like maple syrup and cheddar cheese, two of the state's most renowned exports). Learn about tapping trees for sap and how cheese is smoked at the 550-acre Sugarbush Farm (591 Sugarbush Farm Rd., Woodstock; 800/281-1757; www.sugarbushfarm.com). Generous samples of four grades of syrup and 10 kinds of cheese (including maple—hickory cheddar) are offered throughout the tasting area and shop. To quench your thirst, head out to the Long Trail Brewing Co., about 10 minutes from Woodstock (Rtes. 4 and 100A, Bridgewater Corners; 802/672-5011; www.longtrail.com). The seven varieties of ale are brewed on-site; try a pint or two on the Long Trail Pub's deck, overlooking the banks of the Ottauquechee River.
Arts and Crafts
In 1981, Irish-born Simon Pearce moved his glassblowing operation from Kilkenny, Ireland, to a run-down woolen mill on the Ottauquechee River (The Mill, Quechee; 802/295-2711), 10 minutes from Woodstock. It was an immediate success, and his handblown glass bowls, lamps, and tankards are now sold at 350 stores nationwide.
As Pearce took in apprentices from around the world, he transformed the area into an arts-and-crafts breeding ground. British potter Miranda Thomas (the granddaughter of the architect behind London's Ritz and the interiors of the Cunard ships) left her studio in England in 1983 to set up a ceramics line at Pearce's mill. Her simple freehand designs quickly became popular. At the mill, Thomas was reacquainted with a former college classmate, Charles Shackleton (also a pedigreed risk-taker: his great-grandfather was Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton). The two joined forces—actually, they married—and opened their own studio in Bridgewater, five miles from Woodstock (The Mill, Rte. 4; 802/672-5175).
You'll also find other artisans and artists in the area, most notably wood-block printer Sabra Field, creator of a UNICEF Christmas card (the one with a bird teetering on an apple tree) sent out during the eighties. Her prints are sold at galleries across Windsor County, including Woodstock Folk Art Prints & Antiquities (6 Elm St.; 802/457-2012); her work is also available at www.sabrafield.com.
What to Do
Thanks to the Killington Ski Resort, 20 miles away, and the heavy traffic during leaf-peeping season, dozens of shops have popped up along Woodstock's main streets. N. T. Ferro (11 Central St.; 802/457-1901) sells estate diamonds and vintage watches in perfect repair. At Who Is Sylvia? (26 Central St.; 802/457-1110), owner Janet Eller stocks the racks and shelves with mid-18th- to mid-19th-century clothes, Victorian undergarments, beaded evening bags, and a fine selection of vintage baby clothes.
At Wigren-Barlow Antiques (29 Pleasant St.; 802/457-2453), you can find Rococo consoles, an early-20th-century music stand, and elegantly rusting weathervanes. For some contemporary collectibles, head to Aubergine (1 Elm St.; 802/457-1340), which sells quirky kitchenware, or to Arjuna (20 Central St.; 802/457-3350), for seemingly out-of-place Balinese baskets, as well as hand-dipped candles and hippie jewelry. Should your plans call for rugged activities, or just some time exploring the town, pick up outdoor gear at Woodstock Sports (30 Central St.; 802/457-1568) and books and maps related to Woodstock at Shiretown Books (9 Central St.; 802/ 457-2996).
Since there are only about 7,500 permanent residents in the Woodstock area, no big-chain supermarket has ever bothered to set up shop. Locals buy groceries and dry goods at the nearest general store. F. H. Gillingham & Sons (16 Elm St.; 802/457-2100) is the classic example: owned and operated by the same family since 1886, it stocks everything from butterfly nets to mango chutney. You can even register there for your sport-fishing license or pick up a bow and arrow. Taftsville Country Store (Rte. 4; 802/457-1135) opened in 1840, and serves much the same purpose now that it did back then. Aside from its selection of maple syrups and Cabot cheeses, the store houses the town post office and a pet-retrieval service, and acts as the central gossip depot. Barnard General Store (Rte. 12, Barnard; 802/234-9688), established in 1832, is more like an after-school hangout than a country store, but it still makes sandwiches that pack well for picnics, as well as freshly brewed coffee. The true focal point of neighborhood social life is the Woodstock Farmers' Market (468 Rte. 4; 802/457-3658), which sells fresh organic produce as well as just-baked blueberry pie and fresh crab-and-artichoke dip. If you can find a parking spot on Saturday morning, you're in luck.
With so much to do, even year-round residents have a hard time exploring every corner of their town. If you're overwhelmed, ask for advice at the information booth on the green. With any luck, town crier Kevin Dann will be starting one of his hour-long historical tours ($8 per person; call 802/457-5063 for schedule), which usually concludes with a serenade.
If you're traveling with kids, let them get up close and personal with injured birds of prey—owls, hawks, vultures, ravens—at the Vermont Raptor Center at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science (27023 Church Hill Rd.; 802/457-2779). Successfully treated raptors are released into the 78-acre nature reserve. Children can also pet Jersey calves and learn about dairying at the Billings Farm & Museum (Rte. 12, Woodstock; 802/457-2355), the former residence of George Marsh, then of Frederick Billings, who reforested this region in 1871 (he also built the Northern Pacific Railroad). It's part of the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park (802/457-3368), which celebrates the conservation ethos of its three founders. The only way to enter the Rockefeller mansion and its gardens is on a tour, but you can wander the park's 550 acres without a guide (hike up to Mount Tom for a picnic at Pogue Pond).
Anglers should get in touch with Brad Yoder, co-owner of Trout on the Fly (802/685-2100; www.troutonthefly.com; half-day wading trips $130 per person). He'll float you down the White River on a 13-foot drift boat, or take you to streams full of wild fish for short casting. Thrill-seekers can ride downstream with the help of Wilderness Trails (802/295-7620); they customize canoe and kayak trips on the White River. Should you need an easy come-down off an adventurous day, sample a refreshing fruit wine at the Ottauquechee Valley Winery (Rte. 4, Quechee; 802/295-9463).
The Woodstock area, which includes the villages of Taftsville, Barnard, Quechee, and Bridgewater, lies 280 miles north of New York and 150 miles northwest of Boston. Amtrak (800/872-7245; www.amtrak.com) serves two towns close to Woodstock: White River Junction (15 minutes by taxi) and Rutland (45 minutes). US Airways (800/428-4322; www.usairways.com) flies into nearby Lebanon, New Hampshire, and from there it's 20 minutes west to Woodstock . Distances can be greater than they appear, so it's best to have a car; if you plan to do anything outside Woodstock proper, you won't find any other means of transportation.